Too often, assertions are mistaken for arguments, and there’s a vast difference between the two. An assertion is a definitive statement made about the nature of reality. An argument is presented to back up an assertion. By asking “how do you know that’s true?” we’ll move the conversation beyond dueling assertions to why those assertions should be taken seriously.
It can be intimidating to engage our neighbors on cultural issues these days. It seems that every conversation is a potential minefield where the slightest wrong word can get you banished from polite society as a bigot or “hater.” This is where we can take a lesson from two of the greatest teachers of all time, Jesus and Socrates. Both were masters of their craft, and both used questions to lead their listeners to the answers they sought.
Here are six questions I’ve found extremely helpful to create the sort of dialogue we should desire about issues of faith and culture.
First: What do you mean by that? The battle of ideas is always tied up in the battle over the definition of words. Thus, it’s vital in any conversation to clarify the terms being used. For example, the most important thing to clarify about “same-sex marriage” is the definition of marriage. When the topic comes up, it’s best to say, “Hold on, before we go too far into what kind of unions should be considered marriage, what do you mean by marriage?” Often, when it comes to these crucial issues, we’re all using the same vocabulary, but rarely the same dictionary.
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By Cole Newton — 7 months ago
The exodus is the narrative heart of the Old Testament. It is the central act of redemption upon which the rest of Scripture depends. The exodus is the foundation of Israel’s identity as a people. They are fundamentally a nation of slaves that God redeemed to be His own people and to fulfill the promises that He long ago gave to their ancestor Abraham. The crossing of the Red Sea, therefore, was Israel’s chief moment of salvation. And throughout Scripture, singing is repeatedly shown to be the proper response to God’s salvation.
After studying through a genealogy, a psalm that was also a parable, and a proverb about oxen, we at last moved back into a larger text. Particularly, we return to the book of Exodus, which we previously studied last year. We concluded with chapter 14 and then went on to conclude the Gospel of Mark. My reasoning for breaking larger books like Mark and Exodus into multiple series is twofold. First, I enjoy moving between different biblical genres, so I prefer to parse larger texts out over the span of a couple of years, studying other passages in between.
Second, I enjoy organizing sermons each year so that they loosely all build together upon a similar theme. Most often I try to do this with first an Old Testament text followed by parallel New Testament text. I have done this with pairing Ecclesiastes and Philippians under the theme of joy, with Haggai and Ephesians, Daniel and Mark 1-8, and Exodus 1-14 and Mark 9-16 all under the theme of God’s kingdom.
This year we depart from that overarching theme and come under the theme of God as our shepherd. Here in Exodus 15-19, we will see very clearly how the LORD shepherded Israel like a flock through the wilderness and to the foot of Sinai, and later the book of Hebrews will urge us to consider Jesus, “the great shepherd of the sheep” (13:20). For now, we begin our second part of Exodus with the Song of Moses.
Then Moses and the People of Israel Sang
The very first word of our text is then, which ought to immediately make us pause because it means that an effect is about to be given. Thus, we ought to pause to consider the cause. In the first fourteen chapters of Exodus, God redeemed His people from their four-hundred-year captivity in Egypt. By His sovereign hand, God preserved Moses’ life through the slaughter of Israel’s newborn males, established him in Pharaoh’s own palace to receive the highest quality education of his day (something that would undoubtedly be valuable as the Holy Spirit led him in the writing of Scripture), sent him into the wilderness for forty years as a shepherd, and then sent him back to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of their slavery. Through Moses, the LORD worked the wonders that we now commonly call the ten plagues, which left Egypt in ruin. Nevertheless, even after Pharaoh demanded Israel’s departure, God baited Pharaoh into riding out against Israel with all of his chariots, thinking that they had foolishly wandered to the edge of the Red Sea. God, however, miraculously parted the sea so that Israel went across on dry land. With his heart thoroughly hardened, Pharaoh actually had the hubris to chase after Israel into the midst of the sea, which was when the LORD released the walls of water, drowning Pharaoh and all his horses and riders.
That is the cause of verse 1’s effect: Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD… On the opposite shore of the sea, with their four-hundred-year sojourn in Egypt on the other side and with the bodies of men and horses washing upon the shore, Israel sang to their God, the true and living God.
This song, most often called the Song of Moses but also called the Song of the Sea, is the first psalm of the Bible, and there is a very good possibility that it was the very first portion of the Bible to have been written down by Moses. Indeed, we can easily envision Moses writing down these words before Israel sets out from the sea in verse 22. There have been many scholars who see this musical interjection into the narrative of Exodus as being out of place. Yet they fail to see both the theological and artistic composition of this book of Scripture. This musical interlude is a feature rather than a bug, and it is a feature both theologically and artistically.
It is an artistic feature of Exodus because Moses knew what many ivory-tower academics can easily forget: music is as woven into the foundations of the cosmos as much as wisdom is. Job 38:7 tells us that the stars and angels sang and shouted for joy during creation, and Revelation shows us repeatedly that our life everlasting will be marked by songs of praise. And there are songs everywhere in-between. Martin Luther is often noted for calling music the greatest gift that God has given humanity, second only to the Scriptures.
Theologically, this song is necessary. As I repeatedly have said, the exodus is the narrative heart of the Old Testament. It is the central act of redemption upon which the rest of Scripture depends. The exodus is the foundation of Israel’s identity as a people. They are fundamentally a nation of slaves that God redeemed to be His own people and to fulfill the promises that He long ago gave to their ancestor Abraham. The crossing of the Red Sea, therefore, was Israel’s chief moment of salvation. And throughout Scripture, singing is repeatedly shown to be the proper response to God’s salvation. Indeed, Philip Ryken writes, “The history of salvation is sometimes described as a drama–the drama of redemption. However, this drama is actually a musical. It is impossible even to conceive of Biblical Christianity without songs of praise.”
This is why we so often link singing and worship together. Of course, we know that worship itself is far more than just singing, yet even so, singing is intimately bound to our worship of God. Worship is most simply our act of giving to God the worth that He deserves. Thus, being created and redeemed by God, we owe Him nothing less than our very selves. Therefore, Romans 12:1 is perhaps the most succinct biblical description of our worship in Christ: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Worship is nothing less than giving ourselves entirely to God, and this certainly encompasses our singing. To both the Colossians and the Ephesians, Paul clearly expected singing to play a regular role in communicating the truths of Scripture to one another. Indeed, throughout our sojourning through this life, we ought to say with the psalmist to the LORD: “Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning” (Psalm 119:54).
Indeed, nothing will sink the truths of Scripture more deeply into our hearts than songs. That is why I generally give more serious consideration to adding a particular song to our Sunday morning singing than I do to choosing which texts of Scripture to preach. When it comes to choosing a book or passage to preach, I certainly want to be sensitive to what would best fit our congregation’s particular season, yet in the end, God’s Word will never return void. The songs we sing, however, are compliments to Scripture rather than Scripture itself. They must, then, undergo a far greater degree of scrutiny. This becomes doubly important whenever we consider that songs are far more memorable than words alone. Thus, whenever I select songs for us to sing congregationally, I am actively looking for songs that are worthy of being the soundtrack to our earthly pilgrimage.
Indeed, there is no question that we will sing and make music; that is part of being made in God’s image. The question is what kind of songs will we sing. Particularly, will our heart’s theme song be: I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously?
The Song of Moses
As we move into the actual contents of this psalm, rather than moving verse-by-verse through it, we will focus upon its three broad themes: what God has done, what God will do, and who God is.
The whole occasion of the psalm is an exultation in what God had just done. Verses 4-10 and 12 largely give a poetic retelling of Pharaoh’s destruction in the waters of the sea. Ryken calls us to consider a point that many would rather pass over: “Realize that in this song he did not praise God for the exodus in general, but specifically for the death of the Egyptians as a demonstration of divine wrath.”
If that sounds harsh and even unjust, we need to recalibrate our notion of justice so that it accords with Scripture. God’s triumph in the exodus was certainly in bringing His people out of slavery, yet it was also about beheading Pharaoh as an offspring of the serpent. The plagues upon Egypt were judgment, and the Red Sea was an execution. Indeed, God made certain that the execution fit the crime. This Pharaoh drowned just as the Pharaoh before him had drowned so many infants in the Nile. It was right for Moses and the Israelites to celebrate, for as Proverbs 11:10 says, “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.”
Today, we sing similar songs of Christ’s triumph over the serpent himself. In the hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, we sing:
And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo usWe will not fear for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him,His rage we can endure, for lo his doom is sure,One little word shall fell him.
Working the greater exodus upon the cross, Jesus triumphed over the powers of darkness and put them to open shame. Even so, the greatest enemy that Jesus defeated is our own sin.
By Scot Bellavia — 2 months ago
Nothing we do is done by our own power. God gave us the Sabbath to show us he is our provider. And, as Charles Spurgeon said, “God gave us sleep to remind us we are not him.” Before you drift into unconsciousness tonight, be conscious that rest is more important than doing one last thing, that God is your sustainer, and that he is trustworthy.
Honoring the Sabbath is an easy commandment to break. We diminish it to the hour or two we’re at church on Sunday morning and an afternoon nap. We justify ourselves by saying a 24-hour Sabbath is part of the old covenant and unrealistic in modern times. Taking a day off feels lazy, but that’s because we practice it wrong. If we were to rest in line with God’s created purpose, we would see it as a gift he made specifically for us (Mk. 2:27).
Despite the fact that God commanded us to honor the Sabbath should be persuasion enough, there are a few notable reasons practicing Sabbath is good for us:
We reflect God’s image by remembering that he, too, rested on the seventh day of creation.
Sabbath rejuvenates us and our work.
Most of all, Sabbath reminds us that we are not our own providers.
In modern times, the idea of Sabbath—that is, abstaining from what we consider our job—seems foreign, but it would have seemed just as strange to the Israelites. When the Israelites wandered in the desert, God sent enough manna and quail to feed them each day; they literally had to go out and pick up their daily bread. On Fridays, he sent a double portion to feed them on Sabbath, too. In this, he showed himself to be trustworthy to give them what they needed, even on days they didn’t work for it. We have the same God and thus the same confidence.
Even when we aren’t doing something to justify our paycheck, God is our provider. Six days of productivity is well sufficient to cover our expenses on the seventh day—that was God’s design. In fact, God’s design includes a reminder that we trust God with a portion of our lives each day, whether we realize it or not.
Like the Sabbath, to exalt our nightly rest above busyness is counter-cultural.
By Dan Crabtree — 5 months ago
How, then, shall we disagree? We start by welcoming one another, and when we look to the clear light of Scripture we stand fully convinced on that solid ground. In other words, we disagree like Christians, like those who have been welcomed by the God of goodness and truth. And if Paul’s instructions don’t seem to relieve the tension you still feel between Scripture’s clarity and our fallibility, then number your days and ask for a heart of wisdom (Ps 90:12). We disagree because our dim little minds obscure even the purest light of heaven. The light is still shining and shining bright. May we learn to live in the light of God’s clear truth as he dispels our darkness and disagreement until one day we “know fully, even as [we] have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12).
One of the most common objections I hear from non-believers about Scripture is: “How do you know that you’re right about the Bible when so many other Christians disagree with you?” Usually, the mere existence of Christian denominations (a kind of crystallized disagreement) provides enough of an excuse for a scoffer to throw up his hands and walk away. And I know some in the church who have struggled with this reality as well. “If the Bible is as clear as you say, shouldn’t we all interpret it the same?”
My answer: The clarity of Scripture doesn’t erase Christian disagreements, but it does help us disagree like Christians.
We’ve already seen the Bible’s own case for its clarity and the undergirding of that clarity in the character of God. Beyond that, we’ve considered the natural blindness of mankind to biblical truth and the Scripture’s own demand for obedience to grant understanding. So, Christians should expect to disagree with non-Christians about the Bible – we’re starting from a different premise, so we’ll naturally reach different conclusions. We also saw that we can only be enabled to rightly read the Scriptures when Christ illumines our spiritual eyes to see the clear truth in his light.
So, if all Christians have the same Holy Spirit helping them read the same, clear text, why all the disagreement? Why do some baptize babies and others don’t? Why do some teach sovereign election and others don’t? Why do some believe in a pre-tribulational rapture, some mid-trib, some post-trib, and some the pre-wrath mid-trib double-check discount rapture? Shouldn’t a clear text with the clear light of Christ lead to clear, universal agreement among earnest Bible readers?
Christians can and do still disagree in their interpretations of the clear Scriptures for three reasons, none of which negate the clarity of Scripture itself. Christians disagree because of sin (we may still reject a clear text because of a hard heart), finitude (we are limited beings who can only know so much), and distance (we’re removed from the authors of Scripture by thousands of years, a language barrier, and differing cultural values that need to be grasped before rightly interpreting the text). A combination of these factors can pour mud into the crystal-clear waters of Scripture and make it hard for us to see the bottom. The consequence, then, is that Christians still disagree on the right interpretation of a clear text of Scripture.
So, it’s obvious that we disagree, and it’s apparent why we disagree. The question is how, then, shall we disagree?
The apostle Paul gives us a roadmap to Christian disagreement in Romans 14:1-12. Without plumbing the depths of this text, I just want to help us see Paul’s two chief commands for disagreeing with Christians like Christians. First, “welcome one another.” Second, “be fully convinced.”
Welcome One Another
In writing from the church at Corinth (known for its division), the apostle Paul assumes that the Roman church (whom he has not visited) needs to be prepared for disagreements among the brethren. In fact, Paul seems to assume in his letter to the Roman Christians that they will disagree. This is the same apostle Paul who assumes that Timothy can “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). This is the same apostle Paul who “reasoned from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2) and told his protégé to devote himself to “the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim 4:13). Paul certainly believes the Scriptures are understandable, or else his whole ministry would be forfeit! And yet, Paul also anticipates that Christians who approach the same texts of Scripture will arrive at different conclusions regarding eating meat and esteeming certain days. Paul assumes Christians will disagree.
We should also notice that in this passage Paul believes that when Christians disagree, someone is right and someone is wrong. “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself” (Rom 14:14). The mere presence of a disagreement doesn’t kneecap the truth. Paul’s no post-modern life coach spewing relativist nonsense about “your truth,” “all truths,” and “the truthiness of truth.” No, Paul knows that there is a right way to understand and apply the New Covenant to the lives of believers (the “strong” position), and there are “weak” brothers who need to mature spiritually into that right understanding.
And yet, even though Paul knows there will be disagreements and truly believes that one side is right and another wrong, his first word to his fellow Christians is not a resolution to the debate! More than simply landing the plane for them, Paul wants them to learn how to land it in one piece. In Christian disagreements, Paul wants to first turn their attention to how they love each other in the midst of their difference.
Paul says, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions” (Rom 14:1). Meaning that before you try to correct another Christian with whom you disagree, you ought to warmly, richly, hospitably embrace him as your brother first. And why should you do that? “For God has welcomed him” (Rom 14:3). If God was willing to bring you close, make peace with you by the blood of his Son, and bring you into the family home, then who are you to begrudge that same welcome to another?